The National Health Service (NHS) is launching a new £5 million health and wellbeing initiative for its 1.3 million health service staff.
The new programme will be based around three pillars: a drive for improved staff health; occupational health services for GPs; healthier food and nutrition.
NHS England and ten local NHS organisations will spearhead the push for better staff health. This will include providing the NHS health check at work for employees that are aged 40 and over and offering activities such as yoga and zumba classes, as well as team sports.
Healthy travel and physical activity will also be encouraged through a bikes-for-work scheme. Employees will also have access to physiotherapy and mental health talking therapies, in addition to smoking cessation and weight management services.
To facilitate the programme’s aims, line managers will receive training to help them support their staff’s health and champions will be selected at board level and senior clinician level.
The programme will be extended to all NHS employers over the next five years, targeting areas with the highest rates of sickness absence and recruitment and retention pressures in 2016-17.
The second pillar centres around a new nationally-specific occupational health service for GPs that are suffering from stress and burnout. This will be supported by specialist services for doctors.
The final element of the programme focuses on healthy eating. NHS England will challenge and support catering contractors and private finance initiative (PFI) providers to serve up healthy and nutritious food for staff.
This initiative will also include the provision of healthy snacks in vending machines, ensuring that nutritious options are available for employees, including those working during evenings and weekends.
Simon Stevens, chief executive at NHS England, said: “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.
“At a time when arguably the biggest operational challenge facing hospitals is converting overspends on temporary agency staff into attractive flexible permanent posts, creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must-do.
“And at a time when the pressures on GPs have never been greater, we need to extend the local practitioner health programmes that have been shown to help GPs stay healthy and get back to work when sick.
“Equally, it’s time for PFI contractors and catering firms to ‘smell the coffee’ – ditch junk food from hospitals and serve up affordable and healthy options instead. Staff, patients and visitors alike will all benefit.”
Sue Covill, director of development and employment at the NHS Employers organisation, added: “The biggest annual survey of NHS staff showed managers are doing more to support workforce health and wellbeing.
“There are over 50% more programmes supporting staff health and wellbeing now compared to 2010. NHS staff are now more confident than ever in reporting stress and mental health problems.
“We cannot be complacent. As demand on the NHS grows, efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of staff are very important, not only for staff but also to improve patient outcomes.”